The Museum of Science’s “Engineering is Elementary” units often serve as a seed kernel of inspiration for an interdisciplinary, project-based and hands-on elementary program that is created by the elementary core classroom teachers. Related units happen at the same time across elementary classrooms, optimizing opportunity for collaboration and resource sharing. Curriculum Creation and Collaboration days and times are used for curriculum planning, including a teacher workshop week after school dismisses in June, workshop days before school reopens, and curriculum days through the school year. Past units focused on Egypt & Optics, the Pacific Northwest & Environmental Science, Haiti and structural engineering, India and water filtration, as examples. Activities, ongoing assessment, portfolio creation, and projects are built around essential questions. In 2011-2012 units were built from Australia & Electricity, El Salvador & Cell Membranes. Core Classroom Teachers work as a curriculum development team, sharing ideas, while also integrating external curriculum collaborators to enrich student learning.
Integrated into the year’s chosen themes are common elements in all of our elementary classrooms including:
- Pre – Assessment in core learning areas, which occurs the first weeks of school. A listening conference occurs with parents and specialized needs and hopes are built into an independent learning plan for each student. Narrative report cards and parent conferences each occur twice yearly, or more often if appropriate.
- Reading and writing – leveraging a writer’s workshop and literature groups as core strategies, skill-based teaching sessions also occur as needed. Direct instruction (in whole group, small group, or one-on-one lessons) is differentiated to meet the needs of different students’ abilities. Each student’s starting point will determine unique progress goals for the year.
- Cultural exploration, including religion, myth, philosophies, traditions, foods, clothing, biome, history, significant historical figures, etc. — occurs, stemming from each MOS EiE unit’s country as a jumping off point for broad cultural exploration. For example, the unit focused on Jordan was interwoven with learning about the seven elements of civilization.
- Science topics relate to the engineering project from MOS EiE, extending with much more depth. External scientists are curriculum collaborators who share expertise, materials, and passion with classrooms to extend learning. Core aspects of chemistry, biology, and physical sciences are built into study for all students, starting at age 5. Students learn the scientific process through engagement and practice.
- Technology is integrated and applied every day. Students use laptops and iPads for a myriad of projects, leveraging many programs and applications to support effective research and communication of ideas.
- Daily routines reflect clear expectations for accountability, respect, and community via posted agendas, routines, classroom norms, shared projects, and assignments with deadlines.
- Assessment methods are varied; qualitative assessment includes daily discussion-based feedback, projects, student portfolios, tests, and papers in an ongoing fashion. Quantitative assessment includes a nationally normed STAR Renaissance Assessment. Readers through a grade 8 reading level engage in running records assessments using Fountas and Pinnell three times yearly. Math placement tests are given on the second day of school and as needed during the year to track achievement and skill acquisition.
- Emotional intelligence and social skill building are focuses incorporated into all aspects of the classroom experience. Re-direction, accommodation, and guidance in these areas are applied to support the individual emotional needs of each unique student.